The day is free to recover from the flight or stroll amongst the broad tree-lined avenues dating from the French period. There is a faded colonial charm where baguettes and good coffee are sold from doorways of grand old buildings. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Hanoi. This will include visits to the Temple of Literature, the site of the oldest university in Vietnam with over 2000 graduates; Hoa Lo Prison and the Old Quarter of the city with its '36 Streets' where each street is home to shops selling particular products - e.g. 'silk street', 'gold street', 'paper street' and 'naff souvenir' street. We have the afternoon free in Hanoi to wander around the Hoan Kiem lake and perhaps enjoy the view from a lakeside cafe.
We make an early start for the approximately 4-hour journey to Halong Bay. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful sights in South East Asia with some 3000 limestone peaks rising directly from the clear emerald sea. We cruise amongst this amazing karst scenery, stopping to swim and kayak, allowing us to get to places inaccessible by boat (weather permitting), and enjoy a seafood lunch on board. We overnight on board in twin share cabins with en suite facilities.
We continue to cruise around Halong Bay this morning before returning to port. We then drive back to Hanoi where the evening is free to explore or relax. There is the option of seeing a performance of the famous Water Puppets, which your leader can arrange if you have not already seen them and wish to do so.
After breakfast we transfer to Hanoi Airport for a flight to Danang. In Danang, we climb Marble Mountain where we explore the large caves which were used by the Viet Cong as a hospital base during the war. From the mountain peak there are fantastic views over China beach and the surrounding countryside which leads on to Hoi An, our final destination.
This morning will include a walking tour of Hoi An, the original European trading port in Vietnam, dating back to the mid-sixteenth century. It is now a living museum, with attractive wooden merchant's houses and pagoda-style temples with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European architectural influences. It is also a marvellous place to wander around and enjoy the thriving riverside market and great silk/clothes shopping. If you have anything in mind you want making up, you should consider taking a picture of it along with you. The afternoon is free to enjoy a town that has become a favourite for so many travellers to Vietnam. Options include a trip to My Son, the Cham civilisation's spiritual home, where Cham kings were buried as long ago as the fourth century. Although wartime bombing has destroyed much of the site, there's a number of interesting stone towers and sanctuaries.
We spend the morning at the wonderful Red Bridge restaurant, located on the bank of the Thu Bon River. Visiting the colourful local market first, we shop for ingredients before taking a boat ride to the restaurant. Here we learn the intricacies of Vietnamese cooking. Under the supervision of an English-speaking Vietnamese chef you have the opportunity to create your own dishes. You don't need to be a proficient cook to enjoy this activity but be warned, you get to eat your creations at the end of the morning! You may choose to stay on and enjoy the idyllic garden at the restaurant or make your way back into Hoi An town for an afternoon at leisure, or jump on a bike (optional) for a ride through the countryside, passing markets, schools and villages before continuing on to Cua Dai beach (5 km).
This morning we transfer to Danang Airport for the flight to Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. This is an exciting and absorbing city where scooters pack the streets and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, it is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. Our hotel is in the heart of this incredible city. The Saigon River and Ben Thanh market, are within easy walking distance and are highly recommended. This afternoon a city tour will include a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. The Museum has an interesting photographic record of the Vietnam/American War. Please be aware that some images at the museum are very graphic.
Today we leave the city behind us and head north to visit the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. Used by the Viet Cong during the war, the network covers 3 levels and incorporates around 240km of tunnels. Traditionally these were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow tourists to explore the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine! In the afternoon we return to Saigon and the rest of the day is free for individual exploration.
In the morning we drive to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta (approx 2½ hours), known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam. This region produces most of Vietnam's fruit, sugar cane and coconuts. We take a boat trip on the mighty Mekong River, passing many orchards and friendly locals also travelling by boat. We stop to see some small cottage industries such as rice paper and coconut candy, getting a chance to sample the produce along the way before enjoying the local speciality, 'Elephant Ear Fish', for lunch. After lunch, we continue by boat to Vinh Long where our bus is waiting to take us to Can Tho.
This morning we take a boat trip to visit Cai Rang floating market, the biggest and most lively floating market in the Delta, with great photo opportunities. It is a maze of hundreds of boats packed with fruits, vegetables and plants, where samples are hung from the tops of long poles so that buyers can see from a distance what is for sale. Later we drive back to Saigon where the remainder of the day is free.
This morning we transfer to Saigon Airport for the flight to Siem Reap. On arrival at Siem Reap, we will be met by our Cambodian tour leader. One evening we will make our way to the temple complex and watch the sunset over this magnificent scene.
A full day spent exploring the Angkor complex. We will visit the incredible Angkor Wat and the many temples inside the Royal City of Angkor Thom, including the magnificent Bayon, which comprises of 54 intricately carved towers in one single temple. The Bayon certainly left an impression on an early traveller in 1925 who stated 'we stand before it stunned. It is like nothing else in the land.' We will also see other less-visited outlying temples. Particularly impressive are Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm, which is still covered in jungle as it was first found. Re-discovered in the 1870s and famously described as being 'grander than anything of Greece or Rome' by the French explorer Henri Mouchot, this World Heritage Site stands alongside Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. A truly magical experience and a photographer's paradise.
End Siem Reap.